Recently the internet- and as a consequence, humanity- was shaken by the events that took place when the UK took a termination of life support case to its supreme court. It is my understanding that the person in question was a near 2-year-old who had been in a semi-vegetative state (although I am still uncertain about specifically what the writer meant by that or who the specific term was quoted from) for over a year. Doctors had advised the parents, who were repeatedly described as "in their twenties", that life support needed to be terminated because the child had no chance of recovering. While both parents felt that there was the possibility of the extension of time (quality still questionable), the courts did not agree. They ruled definitively that life support was to be terminated. Ultimately, the parents tried many avenues to take their child to another country where there were alternative treatments. Despite being granted citizenship to Italy, and having survived almost a week without life-saving intervention, it is rumored that armed guards were placed at his door to prevent any possibility of taking him back home or out of the country. The judges had determined that any further interventions would be the prolonging of pain for the child. You can read more about Alfie's case here.
Regardless of where your passion falls on this specific case, it does raise questions about the ultimate responsibility for the health of children and to what extents we are willing to go to get them the care we want for them. In a poll, about 68% of people agreed that parents should have the ultimate decision about what happens to their children- with the rest (still surprisingly) claiming that they should not. The poll did not distinguish who, if not the parents, should get the ultimate say. There are several factors I think are worth exploring in these theories. The first of which are all sorts of ritualistic abuses that we have come to consider normal and ok for our kids...
For instance, the very idea that we are free to feed our children whatever we want is difficult to stomach. Some might cringe at the father making his 11 year old chain smoke a full pack of cigarettes, or the lazes-fraire mother who enjoys a cocktail with her teen daughter on Friday nights, but in this country it is certainly not going to raise any eyebrows to feed your child a frozen popsicle containing not one but over 5 ingredients proven- not to contribute- to cause cancer. The same families that are feeding their kids KFC family meals on Wednesday nights... or hell, BOLOGNA SANDWHICHES. Feed them poison, no one says anything. Let's just make sure they don't have access to the cleaning supplies.
If the poison parents are free to give their children isn't enough, let's venture further. We are, thus far, allowed to chose to give Tylenol for a slight fever, or a sip of Benadryl for a long flight, or Melatonin for those nights where they've gotten out of bed one too many times. We are also allowed to put coconut oil on a rash, or a steroid cream that is prescribed easier than an Epi pen. We can choose (and are avidly encouraged to) brush their little precious teeth with fluoride toothpaste, although the medical community is very aware of how potentially dangerous it can be:
“The concentrations and quantities of fluoride in selected dental products are discussed in relation to the PTD. It is concluded that, as these products are currently packaged, most of them contain quantities of fluoride sufficient to exceed the PTD for young children.” Most disturbing, however, is the fact that even bubble-gum and fruit-flavored toothpastes for children contain sufficient amounts of fluoride to kill a child. Indeed, an average-weighing 2-year-old child could die from ingesting just 40% of a “Colgate for Kids” bubble-gum flavored toothpaste. SOURCE: Whitford GM. (1987). Fluoride in dental products: safety considerations. Journal of Dental Research 66: 1056-60. and FlourideAction.org.
Parents are also free to decide if and when their children attend school. Laws regarding truancy are actually meant to discourage students from missing class out of their own willingness- but parents can easily opt to home school, or perhaps more recently, UNschool their kids. Basically any information can be fed to children at any time and that is somehow completely acceptable. Let's note that during times of preparation for torture, such as during the holocaust, it was schools that trained children to believe that they should follow orders for their country, regardless of whether they personally considered them wrong or right. Entire generations of diffusion of responsibility because they were trained to be an army before they could read the ABCs.
Would it be ludicrous to follow these freedoms a little further, and allow parents to also make decisions about medical treatments? It seems to me that the real discrepancy arises when the decision a parent makes creates a dramatic shortening of life risk. We area country that values longevity versus quality of life. We want to keep baby Alfie on life support. We want to wait for Rom Houben to wake up from a coma. We want to give chemo treatment to toddlers because we hope they will make it another decade. Let's face it, we want to root for survival, even if survival means a life of pain and suffering. Imagine how different the baby Alfie case would be if the parents had wanted to terminate life support and the doctors felt he could still recover... We think it's crazy for a parent to opt for prayer as a means to heal a disease-ridden child but we do not think it's crazy for another, similarly religiously-endorsed tradition: one that involves cutting the tip of an infant's penis off. Can we not, then, recognize that cultural desensitization greatly influences what lines we are willing to draw? And upon which sand they get drawn?
The moment a parent chooses an uncommon medicinal route, every other person (even those not raising their own tiny humans) brings out the pitchforks. Even after a child dies in the same doctor's office that my kids go to- as an immediate and spontaneous reaction to a common vaccine, people expect the other parents to shut up and stand in line for the next one.
The reality is that when you become a parent, your entire existence is to take care of your children. Before anything and anyone, before the planet and your own sanity- your children are your priority. I have ONE job that I cannot fail at. I need to get my children to adulthood unscathed. My theories about how I might accomplish that could be completely different than anyone else's, and if those theories caused me to lose my child- wouldn't I have suffered the greatest loss?
We think we belong to this collectivistic culture- that there is a sense of global care that we want to exert. But our actions say otherwise. We are NOT willing to allow amnesty to immigrants who are having their legally-obtained green cards revoked. We are NOT willing to pay more for public education. We are NOT willing to care for and tend to the homeless. We want to have a say but are not willing to pay for it. We don't want women to have easy access to abortion but god forbid we allow them to also make decisions about how to raise the inevitable side effects. You can't have it both ways: if we decide that parents should be allowed to make decisions, that decision involves ALL decisions that we deem are not torture or abuse. That includes abortion. That includes circumcision. That includes UN schooled. That includes choosing not to vaccinate. If we decide the government has the ultimate say, when does it start? At conception? Does it start with the government deciding who is allowed to procreate? Does it continue into systems of identification that can track your medical appointments? Perhaps into microchips? Does it turn into armies of children hand-picked for some secret program that parents are not privileged to?
We can argue all day about the nuances. Medical advice is biased. Any education comes from a specific perspective. It is not until you notice that something is not working that you fight to change it.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to trusting parents with their kids?